“My name is Bond… James Bond.”
Netflix has made our lives easier by providing truckloads of content which lies just a click away. Yet the boon becomes the bane when we cannot figure out what to watch. If you are looking for handsome men and women in crisp suits and white sunglasses, partaking in intense violence and chase sequences and are seducing by night, you are probably looking for a good spy thriller.
James Bond, the fictional British Secret Service Agent, created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, is the pioneer in the field of espionage. Charming and handsome are his middle names, and he has his way with the criminals as well as beautiful ladies. Although it has been adapted to film several times, where the iconic role has been played by legendary actors such as Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, 007 never seems to get old.
With the pandemic pushing back the release of No Time to Die to April 2021, fans have been brooding over this unprecedented change and are left with an immense craving for their favourite spy to return on-screen. However, Netflix has a wide range of spy and action thrillers to choose from that just might appease their thirst for a classic spy flick.
Our only qualm with Netflix is the lack of female spy films, I love me some good Red Sparrow or Salt. While the streaming platform reinforces stereotypes by pigeonholing spy films into the genre of hypermasculinity, I cannot help but begrudgingly agree that there are, indeed, some great films that fans of the spy film genre, especially James Bond might enjoy watching.
Having scoured through the various films available on Netflix, here is a comprehensive list of ten such films, comprising action, comedy, violence and suspense, that James Bond fans will thoroughly enjoy.
10 films James Bond fans need to watch:
10. American Assassin (Michael Cuesta, 2017)
Adapted from Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, Cuesta’s American Assassin is about Mitch Rapp who loses his girlfriend in a terrorist ambush and is roped in by the CIA as a veteran teaming up with a young man driven by vengeance.
Fast-paced, it is a classic good guy-bad guy tale where the viewers will root for the good guys from the very start. Michael Keaton is brilliant as always supported by a hard-working cast. Although it is quite a decent watch, one cannot help but wonder how great it would have been to see someone as dapper and slick as Daniel Craig or Matt Damon play the role of Mitch Rapp.
“Patriotism exists because people like you and people like me need a higher cause. Something bigger than us.”
9. Johnny English Trilogy
(Peter Howitt (1), Olivia Parker ), (2), David Kerr (3), 2003-)
In a list comprising serious and thrilling action films, if there is one that can make viewers feel genuinely amused and entertained at the same time, it would be the Johnny English film franchise starring Rowan Atkinson. A classic parody of the James Bond espionage genre, the films revolve around a rather clumsy and unintelligent spy, Johnny English who, after the death of all the best secret agents in the country, must save the day.
Known in some countries as ‘Little Brother of James Bond’, Johnny English is indeed not a film with funny jokes galore, but Rowan Atkinson’s antics as the awkward and klutzy spy will send the viewers into splits. A fun parody of the 007 films, it is a must-watch for those who want to have a good time.
“I may not know much about golf Tiger, but I know how to hold the bat.”
8. Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua, 2013)
One of the two movies released in 2013 regarding a terrorist attack on the White House (the other one being White House Down), Olympus Has Fallen revolves around a Secret Service agent rescuing the POTUS during a terrorist attack on the Presidential abode. Mike Banning, played by Gerard Buttler, shares an amicable relationship with President Benjamin Asher. During a US-South Korea meeting, a North Korean terrorist group takes the POTUS, the South Korean President and other members of the White House workforce hostage. It is up to the hero-without-a-cape Banning to save the day.
2013 must have been a terrifying year for the White House employees given the recurrent themes in consecutive films revolving around a siege on the White House. Gerard Butler as the lone wolf steals the show with his violent and passionate methods to guide the POTUS to safety. Although the film has been vehemently criticised for the violence and gore, it adds an extra dimension and adrenaline to the nerve-wracking story of survival. It can make the viewers “sick with suspense”, and would have been seen as a “Die Hard rip off” had it not been for the exquisite fast-paced action and an incredible performance by Butler in the guise of the loyal and patriotic gunman Banning.
“Let’s play a game of ‘Go Fuck Yourself’, you go first.”
7. The Foreigner (Martin Campbell, 2017)
Adapted from Stephen Leather’s 1992 novel The Chinaman, this gripping film is based on Ngoc Minh Quan, a former Vietnam war special ops agent turned London restaurateur who seeks revenge after his innocent daughter, Fan is killed in a politically motivated terrorist attack. Consumed by grief, he blackmails a corrupt politician Liam Hennessy who has ties with the Provisional IRA, the perpetrators of violence.
As critics have rightfully pointed out, “The Foreigner adheres strictly to action-thriller formula, but benefits from committed—and out of character—performances from its talented veteran stars.” Devoid of the classic Jackie Chan humour and kung fu, Chan is a devoted father, devastated by his daughter’s untimely demise, lusting for the blood of her killers, while constantly brooding over loved ones. Former (and arguably the most handsome) James Bond, Pierce Brosnan stars as the morally corrupt villain in the film set against a modern British political backdrop, the narrative is sombre and sober but never slow. The characters deliver outstanding performances and the film is well-paced and systematic, quite similar to the level-headedness of Quan.
“He’s an old man running circles around the lot of us! He’s ahead of us every step of the way.”
6. The Informant (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
Adapted from Kurt Eichenwald’s book of the same name, the biographical drama film revolves around the titular informant played by Matt Damon. Mark Whitacre, a midwestern, is the whistleblower in the mid-1990s lysine price-fixing conspiracy and soon finds himself embroiled in a series of absurd mishaps and bizarre misadventures.
In what is considered Matt Damon’s career-defining performance as the wacky and delusional Whitacre who believes himself to be a spy capper, this cynical film has a comical ironic tone and satirises the theme of a corporate whistleblower. With a quirky take on white-collar crime, Steven Soderbergh provides a ludicrous romp which is quite the underdog compared to his Ocean’s trilogy. The underlying irony makes the tale unreal yet believable. As Peter Travers said, “Laugh you will at The Informant!, but it’s way too real to laugh off.”
“Paranoid is what people who are trying to take advantage of you call you to get you to drop your guard!”
5. November Man (Roger Donaldson, 2014)
Based on Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies, the film revolves around Peter Deveraux, a former CIA agent, who is bestowed with the duty of protecting a woman, Natalia Ulanova, n aide of a Russian presidential candidate and former Army general Arkady Fedorov as she contains confidential information regarding the latter, which, if exposed, can annul the latter’s candidacy.
Pierce Brosnan, the former suave 007, pulls the film forward on his able shoulders. At times, his charm is lost in the grim and sadist structure of the film. However, it is a great commentary on the threat posed by political ambition and hunger for power towards a country’s stability. Terrific and charismatic performances complement the script. The cold and icy professionalism inherent to special agents and war criminals is well portrayed in the film without overuse of cliches.
- “He’s probably the best friend I’ve ever had.”
– “All your friends try to kill you?”
4. Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)
Recipient of three Academy Awards, Affleck’s 2012 film is based on a true story involving CIA agent and exfiltration expert Tony Mendez, who goes to Iran under the guise of a sci-fi film (like Star Wars) director to rescue six US Embassy employees, roaming the streets, during the Tehran hostage crisis; the American embassy staff were taken as hostages by Iranian Islamists as a retaliatory action against the US President’s decision to put the last Iranian Shah into an asylum during the Iranian Revolution. This was also known as the ‘Canadian Caper’ due to the immense support extended to the US by the Canadian government.
Although the film has been vehemently criticised for not giving enough credit to the Canadian embassy and for providing inaccurate details regarding the British and New Zealand embassies, it is a wonderful depiction of the nail-biting escape mission. Devoid of the apparent ‘sexiness’ that comes with the job, Affleck portrays the life of a CIA agent for what it is- physically and psychologically exhausting. Mendez does not win via rambunctious shootouts but by being level-headed, strategic and composed. Affleck’s film is a cathartic and emotional journey of the hard work and efficiency of CIA personnel to succeed in their covert mission; despite few hiccups along the way, the seamless direction and gritting narrative peppered with dark comedy make Argo one of the best films to be watched by James Bond fans.
“History starts out as farce and ends up as a tragedy.”
3. Mission: Impossible Film Series (Brian De Palma/J.J. Abrams 1996-)
Brian De Palma’s 1996 original Mission: Impossible set the ground for a blockbuster spy franchise which improved and evolved with J.J. Abram’s Mission: Impossible III. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is an Impossible Missions Forces (IMF) agent who embarks on various missions, heading the main field team, to save the world from impending disasters and takes down vicious enemies. J.J. Abrams’ narrative adds dimension to the handsome and suave Hunt and makes his missions seem even more daunting and impossible.
Tom Cruise and his incredible athletic abilities render him to perform his in-camera stuntwork; the dedication is astounding, with every passing movie the stunts get even more challenging. Ethan Hunt is an A-lister in the espionage trade, earning the same credential as James Bond and Jason Bourne. As one progresses forward in the franchise, the films have more rounded characters and emotionally investing plotlines. The seventh film in the franchise, Mission: Impossible 7 is scheduled to launch in 2021.
2. The Bourne Film Series
(Doug Liman (1), Paul Greengrass (2,3,5), Tony Gilroy (4), 2002-2016)
Created by the author Robert Ludlum for his novel, Jason Bourne is a CIA assassin who suffers from dissociative amnesia. The Bourne film series is a must-watch for all James Bond fans as it redefined the genre; Matt Damon’s exceptional performance as the rogue Jason Bourne catapulted his career, cementing him as an A-lister. A brutal combination of excellent combat, mind-boggling conspiracies and an amnesiac protagonist, the films constitute one of the greatest espionage thrillers of all time. The gradual evolution of Bourne’s character is a treat to the eyes. His smooth coherence and skills get polished with every passing film, which is filled with unique and intriguing delights adhering to the genre.
The bourne film franchise has received high praise from critics and audience alike. Matt Damon’s performance has received special acclaim for its stellar deliverance: “Kinetic, fair, and intelligent, every payoff packaged with a moment’s contemplation crucial to the creation of tension”. As if the performance was not enough, it was later known that Damon had mastered stunt work and combat, boxing and eskrima before the film to add authenticity and realism to his on-screen persona. With intense chase scenes and riveting theories, the film is a rollercoaster of thrills and twists.
“This is Jason Bourne, the toughest target that you have ever tracked. He is good at staying alive, and trying to kill him and failing… just pisses him off.”
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)
Based on John Le Carre’s expansive novel of the same name, Gary Oldman, who has been very vocal about his lack of fascination towards the beloved 007, delivers an impeccable performance as the iconic and taciturn middle-aged MI6 Agent, George Smiley, who embarks on a mission to uncover a Soviet mole at the heart of the organisation.
This film is far removed from the quintessential flashy superagent flicks with hunky-dory capers. Instead, it is an intricate and elegant drama with a gripping narrative that boasts of a terrific ensemble including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and more who deliver astounding performances.
Reflective of a time before the gadget-takeover, the film is not populated with intense chase sequences; instead, the old-fashioned spycraft takes precedence where it is a battle of wits and the cat-and-mouse chase is manipulated and decoded by the best of the minds. It reads into the brutal nature of bureaucracy and espionage and traces the subsequent loneliness and fractured psychology which comes as a gift. A wordy script and aesthetic filmography along with a riveting mind-play make this film one of its kind, a more mature and sober version of the flashy 007 films.
“You survived this long because of your ability to change sides, to serve any master.”